|Richard T. Ryan at The Mystery Bookshop in New York City|
“My collection of M’s is a fine one,” Sherlock Holmes once told Dr. Watson. Richard T. Ryan gives us yet another one in the villain of his new pastiche, The Merchant of Venice. It's an ingenious story that made me curious Rich’s writing process. He was kind enough to answer my questions:
The Merchant of Menace is a clever and memorable title. Did you come up with the title and then craft a story to fit it, or did you plot the story and then name it?
I always start the story first, and usually the title comes to me at some point while I am writing. In this instance, the title came early on. I knew what I wanted my villain to be but the exact phrasing comes from a headline I wrote about Osama bin Laden after he had placed a bounty on American troops during the war on terror. Obviously, there’s also the play on The Merchant of Venice.
The story is strongly anchored in history, including several historical personages who appear in its pages as characters. Is history a major interest of yours?
I was an English major and I minored in history as an undergrad. In grad school, I found the literature and the history to be inextricably linked. Plus, I think if you are a Holmes fan, you have to love the period and all it entails.
One of the major plot engines here is the Tara Brooch. In earlier novels you wrote about the Stone of Destiny and druids. Am I right in perceiving a certain Celtic focus to your writing as well?
That would certainly seem to be the case, but I think of myself more as an Anglophile. In The Stone of Destiny Holmes and Watson travel to Ireland, but the stone is a Scottish treasure and Holmes was working on behalf of the crown. While we can trace the origins of the druids to the ancient Celts, the story is firmly anchored in the rich, mystical history of England. I guess there’s just something about the Celts that I find enormously appealing, and the fact that I graduated from Notre Dame, home of the Fighting Irish, may have something to do with it as well.
Most of your fiction has been Sherlockian. Do you consider yourself a Holmes pasticheur who writes mysteries, or a mystery novelist who writes pastiches?
I am still trying to figure that out. Obviously, I am a Holmes pasticheur, but I don’t think I can consider myself a mystery novelist who writes pastiches quite yet. That may change when I have actually completed a non-Holmesian manuscript.
You were a journalist for about three decades – certainly no Horace Harker! How does that experience influence the plotting process and the writing of your fiction?
In journalism, accuracy is paramount. When you write about Holmes, I feel as though every word is being scrutinized, so the research has to be painstakingly considered. Although I check and re-check everything I write, the occasional gaffe does slip through. I just do my best to keep them to an absolute minimum.